My travel buddies took off this morning after we enjoyed one last chai together while sitting on the marble steps by the Ganga. The chai wallas were up bright and early like we were. I have already grown accustomed to my sweet creamy little chai every morning. I say little because it is served in either a small glass or metal cup, no more than 4 ounces. At least half as much as you would expect in the States. And typically, most people only drink one serving. Indians have thankfully not fallen to prey of the “supersize me” mentality.
You do have to watch the temperature of either cup. I have yet to be served or even seen a mug, even when you order coffee which I have tried here once, not bad. Tashi carries around fresh ginger and cardamom to give the chai wallas for crushing into our chais, just in case they don’t have it though most seem to have at least the ginger. He also adds a wonderful ojas blend of self-prepared herbs to the chai once we get it which helps with vitality and energy in a super healthy way. And then he tops off our chai with a sprinkle of saffron threads… what looks, feels and tastes like a royal treat. I will miss the ojas but he very kindly gifted me a small pouch of cardamom beans to carry and thoughtfully left his remaining pouch of saffron on my backpack when he returned to our room to grab one last thing. Too kind!
I had discussed staying at the ashram at least a couple more days with Reception while I rested from all the travel and got my bearings. They had me register officially finally and moved me to my own room down the hall that morning. Not before I took the opportunity of my new spaciousness and view of the Ganga though! Once I returned to the room Tashi and I had been sharing after they left, I promptly plugged my little speaker into my iPhone, found a new playlist I was thankfully given before I left the States and had my very own hour-long Ecstatic Dance session. That was SO needed after all the travel. And something I love to do when I find myself in a spacious room while traveling. Even just once/month of getting my groove on like that allows my dancer’s body to be it’s happy self while on the road. Yoga is amazing but doesn’t cut it when it’s been too long since a good sweaty throw-down!
My new room was a bit smaller and facing away from the Ganga but still had two beds, a little table, sink in the room with a mirror and bathroom with sink, toilet and shower. I was being charged 600 rupees/night ($9.20) which is actually on the expensive side for ashrams. They can run as low as 150 rupees. But the meals made up for it, just 40 rupees for breakfast and 60 rupees each for lunch/dinner. Meals were super simple, basically rice, rotis (flat round bread) and a couple different kinds of a spicy mushy bean dish like dahl. For 15 rupees more, you could get dessert which was basically a small round donut soaking in a crazy sweet liquid sauce. You could also purchase chai for 10 rupees — 25/30 in the restaurants. You just have to request low or no sugar, otherwise they will typically come in a form your dentist would not be very pleased about. I’ve already gotten quite used to it!
My new home worked for me! Especially since this ashram also has an Ayurevda treatment center on the property which happened to be right around the corner from where I was staying. I didn’t hesitate a moment to take advantage of finally having my first official Ayurveda massage. On occasion I had found Ayurvedic practitioners while traveling in South America and a couple times even attempted to receive a session to no avail. I’m grateful they never worked out as it seemed most befitting of course, to actually receive my first Ayurvedic treatment in India, it’s birthplace.
There were many options on the menu but I went straight to the full body abhyanga massage. After so much travel and our day-long trek, that was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was easy to make an appointment as they appeared to have a few practitioners always available. My session was 900 rupees (just short of $14) for a 45 min/hour session. Can’t beat that!
My massage was my only real item of the day! And a definite treat. I have received bodywork in most of the countries I’ve traveled, feeling almost like it’s my job to experience the healing modalities offered around the world. Most of the times I am somewhat satisfied and on occasion, quite disappointed. I must admit the most qualified and experienced practitioners I have found are in the U.S. but I am also likely not receiving from many of the higher end locations. As anywhere else in the world, you get what you pay for. That being said, U.S. standards and certifications also seem more demanding.
I ended up enjoying my conversation with the sweet practitioner as much as the massage. She was very petite and appeared to be in her 30s but informed me she was only 26. It is common for Indians to ask personal questions like age when they meet you. My practitioner was no different and fairly quickly in the session began to ask me questions which started with of course, where I was from. Normally, I prefer to remain quiet when receiving bodywork, but she was one of the first Indian people I had gotten a chance to connect with who also spoke English well enough to have a conversation. It was interesting to hear about how she had been in an arranged marriage. I already knew she was married because many Indian women put a red marking on their forehead right in the middle of the start of the hairline.
I asked if she was happy with her marriage since we had started speaking more personally. She had already started to whisper and told me sometimes yes, sometimes no. He gets angry. And held her hand up to her face to motion that he drinks. In some areas of India, alcohol is illegal. In fact, it is not served anywhere in Rishikesh and many other places. She told me it is very important and very good that she works as much as she does. I asked how many session she would do in a day. If the center was busy, up to seven or eight. In the States, the most I’ve heard someone will do at a spa is five, though it was rare for me to ever do more than three in one day by choice. I can’t even imagine seven, let alone eight. And the worst of it all, is that her monthly salary was only 4,000 rupees, just $61. Yet one massage costs between 900-1200 rupees! Talk about unfair wages. I did not have the heart to tell her what I got paid to give one massage in the U.S. Compensation for my one massage was more than her entire month’s salary! She told me she would sometimes get lucky and was tipped 100 – even 500 rupees from people and that was very helpful. I was super happy to be able to tip her well at the end of the massage because she needed and deserved it. I felt quite nice afterward, enjoyed the tea they offered at the end… and knew I’d return the next day!